Interview: Nokia's Mark Slater talks about Lumia 900 launch

While Nokia and Microsoft have teamed up in the past few months to launch the Lumia 800 in Europe and later the Lumia 710 in the US and elsewhere, this Sunday will see the biggest smartphone launch yet for the two companies since their Windows Phone partnership was first announced in February 2011. The Lumia 900 release, on AT&T in the US, could be a huge step forward for Nokia and the Windows Phone OS as both work to draw market share away from Apple and the various Android-based devices.

Nokia's Mark Slater, the company's vice-president in charge of the AT&T account, is undoubtedly a very busy person in the days leading up to the Nokia Lumia 900 launch. However, he was able to take some time to answer a few of our questions about the Lumia 900, as well as a few other topics.

First, what do you think makes the Lumia 900 unique compared to other Windows Phone devices and smartphones in general?

There are several areas that make the Lumia 900 stand out in the smartphone category. Importantly, it is the combination of these things that we feel has earned the buzz that the Lumia 900 has received since being introduced at CES earlier this year. But specifically:

  • Design. The Lumia 900’s unibody polycarbonate material gives the Lumia 900 a seamless, sleek look. With AT&T ranging the device in black, cyan and white (as of Apr 22), the device nicely stands out in a sea of black and gray.
  • Clear Black Display & large display. Consumers are frustrated because they cannot see their display in the bright sunshine. Nokia’s Clear Black Display technology uses a polarizing filter to filter out the light and keep colors bright and vibrant. The phone also senses the light and increases brightness when needed (decreasing when not needed).
  • LTE and front facing camera. Two features the smartphone user veteran will enjoy. The Lumia 900 has the Tango video calling app pre-installed and will support Skype (currently in beta) when it becomes available in the Marketplace. And with AT&T’s LTE providing 10x the speed of 3G, consumers will enjoy all the web and Marketplace has to offer with blazing speed.
  • The Windows Phone UI offers an attractive alternative for consumers. Whether new to smartphones or looking for something new, the UI is intuitive and makes everyday tasks easy and fast.
  • 70,000+ apps in Marketplace plus exclusive Nokia apps. Nokia Drive is free to download from Marketplace and provides turn by turn navigation. We also offer many exclusive apps (ESPN, CNN with exclusive features, Sesame Workshop for example).
  • Price. The AT&T retail price of $99.99/two year contract is a very attractive price for a device that is feature packed.

When you combine all of these features, the total package is a standout amongst current offerings.

In terms of its hardware specs, the Lumia 900 doesn't seem to be too different to other top-end Windows Phone devices. Do you think that the Windows Phone hardware restrictions from Microsoft allow for Nokia to differentiate enough from other devices on the market or would Nokia prefer to have more relaxed restrictions?

There are many ways to differentiate on the Windows Phone platform. Design is key to be differentiated and attractive to consumers and we are proud of the Lumia 900 design, materials and colors. Another way to differentiate is through the exclusive apps (Nokia Drive) and the exclusive apps we have created with developers (ESPN, Univision, Sesame Workshop, CNN) are the few we have announced to date.

Do you believe Nokia would have been more successful with Windows Phone had the company been able to adopt a wider range of hardware, or would the fragmentation issues have been a hindrance and off-putting factor for buyers?

To date, Nokia has introduced 4 Lumia products. This portfolio offers the Lumia 610, 710, 800 and 900. Each have unique design features and price points. Even with 4 Lumia products in our portfolio, we are still in the early days since the first Lumia devices began to sell in Europe only last November. In the US, our first Lumia device, the Lumia 710, began selling in January.

It is important though for manufacturers and consumers (and developers) that the operating system not become fragmented.

The launch of the first Lumia 800 phones in Europe set the stage for the upcoming Lumia 900 launch. What lessons did Nokia learn from the Lumia 800 release that it is incorporating into the Lumia 900 launch?

We learned a lot. Primarily that consumers view their mobile phone as an identity. They want to personalize their devices and use their devices as a creative platform. However, for Nokia, the US market has to be treated differently. We are a challenger (yet familiar) brand in the US. As such, we have the opportunity to reintroduce the brand to the US consumer in a fun way. We can challenge the smartphone category and draw upon our strengths and reputation as a company known for quality.

How did Nokia test the Lumia 900 in terms of how a typical smartphone owner uses the device?

A lot of research. A lot of talking with consumers. The creation of the Lumia 900 was done closely with AT&T who has tremendous amount of knowledge and research on their consumers.

AT&T is the launch partner for the Lumia 900 in the US but many people still feel AT&T's network has a lot of service issues. How confident is Nokia that AT&T will be able to handle the launch effectively in the US?

From a network perspective, Nokia and AT&T worked together to ensure the device’s success. Specifics about AT&T’s network capabilities should be directed to AT&T.

What plans does Nokia have for software updates for the Lumia 900 and will it be able to be updated to the next version of Windows Phone, code named Apollo?

The Lumia 900 is about to launch on April 8. It is a bit premature to be talking about future updates. Any updates regarding the Windows Phone software should be directed to Microsoft.

Nokia has also released a number of exclusive Windows Phone apps. How important is it for Nokia to develop its own apps for its Lumia devices and what can we expect to see in the future from the Nokia app team?

Nokia apps like Nokia Drive is a huge asset for us in differentiating Nokia devices from other Windows Phone devices as well as other non-Windows Phone devices. Our location and commerce unit are working on many future apps that take advantage of the mapping asset. In addition, we have exclusive partner apps like ESPN, CNN, Univision and Sesame Street. We recently announced partnerships with Red Bull, Kraft and Groupon. You can expect to see the trend of exclusive apps continue for the Lumia portfolio.

The Windows Phone marketshare is still well below that of iOS and Android. How confident is Nokia that consumers will gravitate to the Windows Phone OS when they see and try out the Lumia 900?

Our experience is that once consumers try Windows Phone, they like it. At the friendly price point of $99.99, we think consumers will try out the Lumia 900. With 70,000+ apps in Marketplace already, with our developer support organization training and talking to developers daily and the increased download of the Microsoft developer tools, we are proud of the growth of the Marketplace and foresee this growth trend continuing.

Are there any plans to bring the Lumia 610 to the US at some point?

Our current US strategy is based on the Nokia Lumia 710 with T-Mobile, which addresses the 150 million Americans still to buy a smartphone and has received an incredibly encouraging early response, and the Nokia Lumia 900 with AT&T, which meets a number of US priorities (such as LTE, larger screen and front facing camera). We haven’t announced any plans to bring the 610 to the US.

When will we see the Lumia 900 show up for other US carriers?

In the US, the Lumia 900 will be sold exclusively with AT&T.

There are lots of rumors about Nokia planning to release some kind of tablet for Windows 8 later this year. Can you offer any comment on these reports?

There is nothing new here. As we have said many times previously, we are eyeing this space with interest. But we haven’t made any product announcements relating to tablets.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about the Lumia 900 launch and Nokia's plans for Windows Phone in general?

We are excited about the Lumia 900. You will see a lot of Nokia promotion around the device. Additionally, because both Nokia and AT&T worked so closely on this device, you’ll also see AT&T give prominent position and in-store promotion. AT&T is also ranging the Nokia Purity On Ear headset By Monster for the best sound experience (in black), $199 USD. Together, Nokia and AT&T made significant investments to train and provide devices to the retail staff, a key step in making sure the sales reps are knowledgeable and engaged with consumers.

We would like to thank Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions!

Images via Nokia

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